A group of concerned women started a home for needy children in Amsterdam in 1883. When it first opened, four children were taken in, but the numbers grew rapidly.
In 1896, a dormitory-style Children’s Home was built at 77 Guy Park Ave., and it was enlarged in 1909. Money was donated by community leaders, including carpet industry executive Stephen Sanford.
Shirley Spurles Baroody remembered the day in the 1940s when her parents, migrant farm workers, were declared unfit, “whatever that meant at the time.”
One older brother went to live with relatives. Shirley, about four years old, another older brother and an older sister were put into a Gloversville police car and taken to the Children’s Home in Amsterdam. Baroody lived at the Guy Park Avenue facility for 11 years.
“The decision on where we were placed depended on who had the openings,” said Baroody, who moved to Greensboro, N.C., as an adult. The Catholic Sisters of the Resurrection also operated a home for children on Market Street in Amsterdam.
“Three matrons took care of us, which was just amazing given the mechanics of caring for 50 children day in and day out,” Baroody said.
The matrons in Baroody’s day were Elizabeth Trenham, Genevieve Hopkins and Clara Hall, the last being Baroody’s favorite “because she would read to us.” Trenham was a matron for 45 years, retiring as supervisor in 1956, a year before the institution closed.
The board of directors of the home described Trenham as “a real mother to hundreds of children.”
The children attended public school and went to Sunday school at the then-First Methodist Church on Division Street. Otherwise they led a regimented life behind a fence and tulip garden and inside the walls of the Children’s Home.
Girls and boys lived on separate sides of the building, getting together for meals. The children helped clean up after dinner. Each Saturday, laundry arrived, with one clean dress for each girl for the week. Baths were twice a week. Children lined up for meals and even to brush their teeth.
The matrons emphasized good manners — boys and girls stood when an adult came into the room. Baroody remembered a few spankings but said she was not abused. She said living in the Children’s Home “probably saved my life and guided me to better things.”
The older residents, Baroody recalled, were granted the privilege of leaving the building, some of the girls even going on a trip with the matrons to New York City.
Younger children spent many hours in the playroom sitting on wooden boxes that contained each child’s possessions. Baroody said, “I cannot tell you how many hours I sat on that box while somebody taught us to knit or embroider, very quiet activities.”
In December, the matrons asked each child for a list of three things wanted for Christmas. Baroody recalled getting paper dolls and white socks. The women’s clubs of Amsterdam put on a Christmas party every year. Women from the then-Forest Avenue Methodist Church did sewing for the residents.
The Children’s Home had 23 residents when it closed at the end of the summer of 1957. The lack of trained staff and lack of children were cited. It was reported that 20 similar facilities closed that year around the state. Needy children were being placed instead in individual foster homes. The Amsterdam building was eventually torn down.
What was the board of the children’s home still exists as the Children’s Aid Association of Montgomery County. Last year it contributed money to Liberty for a playground to be used by children, including those with developmental disabilities.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.